Keep on Smiling – You Could Live Longer!

If you are one of those people who get angry easily you should learn to take a deep breath and smile. It could add years to your life.

Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher, Dr. Kenneth Prkachin, who has been studying the effects of personality and emotion on health for years, says there is an important, emerging link between anger and disease. Learning to smile in tense situations, he says, may actually reduce the risk of heart disease as much as some dietary modifications.

Dr. Prkachin’s conclusions come from work with about 2,000 otherwise healthy people, some of whom have anger-management problems.

"What we have been doing over the years is studying the mechanisms of how can be related to health in people who have difficulty regulating anger and emotion.”

One of the things Dr. Prkachin and his colleagues have found is that people with anger problems have sudden, exaggerated increases in blood pressure when they get mad.

Anger is induced in the laboratory by asking people to write an account of the angriest episode they can recall. In a later interview this anger episode is probed and rekindled by a trained investigator while the patients blood pressure and other physiological reactions are measured.

"When you get them in anger mode, these people show much greater increases in blood pressure and a very exaggerated stress response compared to normal controls.”

The B.C. team thinks that repeated over a lifetime, this exaggerated reaction contributes to wear and tear on the heart and blood vessels.

"There are suggestions that when you get a big burst of blood pressure like this it can damage the lining of blood vessels. As this damage is repaired, scar tissue can form and you get a buildup of plaque leading to atherosclerosis (often referred to as ‘narrowing of the arteries’). Certain blood cells also become stickier with a tendency to clump, which can lead to clotting of blood platelets.”

Dr. Prkachins work indicates people with anger management difficulties may be born with a susceptibility, which predisposes them to have this exaggerated anger response.

Such people, he adds, need to learn how to defuse tense social situations. One thing that reduces tension is a simple smile. It need not be a big cheesy grin, he says. Just a social smile will do.

"In a stressful situation if a person gives a social smile, it relaxes them and sends a message to the person who is contributing to their tension that ‘Hey, we may be talking about something highly charged here, but we are just talking and you don’t have to worry about me.’ It defuses the situation,” he says.

By funding this research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation hopes to create a better understanding of the root causes of heart disease and stroke, which may be related to psychological as well as physiological factors.

So take a deep breath and smile. Both of these actions, known to decrease tension, can drop your blood pressure, and in the long-run may just extend your life.

For more heart health information visit call 1.88.HSF.INFO or visit the Vancouver Island and Powell River Area Office at B4 91 Front Street Nanaimo.